Why We Must Invest in Early Adolescence

Over the past 20 years, we have seen global reductions in maternal mortality and gains in early childhood survival. As world leaders are now increasingly focused on achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to ensure that all women, girls, and adolescents have equal chances of surviving and thriving, it is timely for us as funders to use our collective voice to heighten global attention and investment to one specific, and often understudied, group: young adolescents aged 10–14 years.

As individuals move from childhood to adolescence, they enter a dynamic period of development—a time when health attitudes and behaviors and gender norms are shaped. The literature shows that early adolescence, in particular, is marked by an increase in restrictions placed on girls and greater independence afforded to boys. For both groups, there are strong social pressures to conform to existing gender norms. This early period of adolescence is a largely unstudied phase of life, yet evidence suggests that this is an opportune time for communities to encourage the development of positive health and equitable gender norms early in life that can be transformative both immediately and over the life course. But, how does one develop positive social and gender norms among youth aged 10–14 years? Very little evidence guides us toward appropriate interventions.

As funders, we are committed to investing in research and interventions that ensure young people live healthy and productive lives with the agency to make their own sexual and reproductive health decisions and that support their physical, social, and emotional well-being. The Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS) seeks to connect the dots between childhood and adolescence by examining the intersection of gender, health, and development very young adolescents aged 10–14 years in living in periurban communities in 13 countries. The GEAS builds upon previous research by the Population Council, the University of Oxford, and the Institute of Reproductive Health at Georgetown University which has contributed to increased global awareness and understanding of very young adolescents.